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Japanese encephalitis vaccine mandatory for certain PACAF locales

A Japanese encephalitis vaccination is now mandatory for active-duty Airmen stationed to or traveling for 30 days or more in the South Korea or Japan. While the likelihood of contracting the disease is low, the Air Force Surgeon General mandated the vaccine as part of their continuing efforts to protect and defend Airmen and their families from public health threats. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. James Stewart)

A Japanese encephalitis vaccination is now mandatory for active-duty Airmen stationed to or traveling for 30 days or more in the South Korea or Japan. While the likelihood of contracting the disease is low, the Air Force Surgeon General mandated the vaccine as part of their continuing efforts to protect and defend Airmen and their families from public health threats. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. James Stewart)

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (AFNS) -- Starting Feb. 1, the Japanese encephalitis vaccine will be mandatory for active-duty Airmen who are either permanently stationed or who will be temporarily assigned for more than 30 days to Japan or South Korea.

The implementation was signed into effect Jan. 9, by Air Force Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Thomas Travis.

"Even though the likelihood of getting Japanese encephalitis is low, the consequences of this disease can be real severe, including permanent disability or death," said Lt. Col. Randy Langsten, the Pacific Air Forces Surgeon General command public health officer. "In this case, we're talking about mitigating a specific medical threat. We're placing an emphasis on keeping our force prepared to carry out the Air Force's Pacific mission."

The current vaccine has been available since 2009, and until now, has only been recommended for Airmen. Typically, the Air Force mandates any vaccine recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To help bring this vaccine in line with standard practice, the Air Force made it mandatory.

The implementation also aligns with local country processes, which requires the vaccination for all host country children.

"The CDC and World Health Organization describe most of Asia, including the countries of Japan and (South Korea) as endemic areas," Thomas said.

Members currently stationed in Japan and South Korea will see their individual medical readiness status turn yellow Feb. 1, and will have one year to receive the two-dose vaccination series.

"Airmen are our most precious resource; they're the key to PACAF's ability to provide a rapid response force capable of protecting and defending the Pacific region," Langsten said. "Without our Airmen, we can't get the mission done."

Although not required, the Air Force recommends family members and Defense Department civilian employees in Japan and South Korea to receive the vaccine as well.

"We encourage everyone to get this vaccine, Airmen and their families," Langsten said. "Medical readiness is important to our Airmen, but so are their families. We want our people focusing on the mission instead of worrying about a family member being susceptible to Japanese encephalitis. Bottom line, we are committed to keeping everyone safe and healthy."

Although the threat of infection is less than 1 percent, for those who get the disease, there is a 20 to 30 percent fatality rate, and the risk of serious neurological, cognitive or psychiatric problems is 30 to 50 percent among those who survive the disease, Langsten said

"Because of the serious consequence and nature of the disease, we think it's important to get people vaccinated," he added.

For those who may not be able to get the vaccine right away, other options exist to help prevent infections until the vaccine can be received.

"The mosquitos that transmit the JE virus feed mainly outside during cooler hours from dusk to dawn," said Lt. Col. Maureen Farrell, the 374th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander at Yokota Air Base, Japan. "It's best to limit outdoor activities during these times. When you are outdoors, use an EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)-registered insect repellent that contains DEET, IR3535, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Wearing long sleeves, long pants and socks can help."

(The 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs office contributed to this article.)

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